A UN Security Council delegation has met Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from a crackdown in Myanmar. Some were in tears and spoke of rape, murder and other atrocities committed by security forces.
A team representing the UN Security Council on Sunday visited Rohingya refugees trapped in squalid camps along the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh in a bid to assess what is being seen as one of the worst crises of its kind in the world.
The UN delegates interviewed several refugees in the camps about their experiences of a military campaign by Myanmar that has forced some 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.
Many of the refugees have previously provided testimony of murder, rape, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes by Myanmar security forces and local mobs.
"It shows the scale of the challenge as we try as a Security Council to find some way through that enables these poor people to go home," said British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce, who was approached by several crying women and girls. "The sad thing is there's nothing we can do right today that will make their distress any less."
The delegation from the five permanent Security Council member states and 10 non-permanent member states is then to travel to Myanmar to meet with civilian leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
She has been criticized by the West for failing to defend the Rohingyas, who Myanmar authorities consider to be Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh, although they have lived in the country for centuries.
Accusations of ethnic cleansing
The delegation's three-day visit is expected to include a helicopter flight over Rakhine state so they can see the remains of Rohingya villages razed to the ground during the crackdown.
The Security Council has been urging Buddhist-majority Myanmar to allow the refugees to return home safely and to work on ending the decades of discrimination against the Muslim minority.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal in November to repatriate thousands of Rohingya refugees, but officials say the process has been delayed by organizational problems.
UN and US officials have described the crackdown on the Rohingyas, which began in August last year, as "ethnic cleansing." Myanmar authorities claim the military operation in Rakhine is aimed at rooting out extremists and have denied almost all reports of alleged atrocities committed by its security forces in the region.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch called for the Rohingya refugee crisis to be referred to the International Criminal Court in view of the lack of a UN Security Council resolution.
tj/jm (AP, AFP, dpa)